Article by Colin Darretta
When I was working as a Goldman Sachs banker, I was accustomed to thinking in dollars and cents. As I progressed in my career, however, I realized that making more and more money wasn’t exactly what I considered success. Without a sense of pride and achievement in the work, the financial rewards of a job can feel hollow. I came to see that my career in private equity had left me feeling unfulfilled — so I left.
Folk wisdom has long held that money can’t buy happiness, but it’s more complicated than that. Recent research shows that while higher incomes are correlated with longer life expectancies and greater satisfaction, there’s a tipping point: Once our immediate material needs and desires are met financially, making more money doesn’t produce more joy. At Goldman Sachs, I had reached that point. I wanted to move beyond pure monetary gain to create something tangible that combined my passion for wellness with my desire to improve people’s lives.
In my first successful endeavor as an entrepreneur, I did that by offering nutritional supplements. Even now, after a few more business successes, I still have time to see my family, travel the world a couple of times a year, and generally do the things that contribute to my happiness. And it all started with a simple realization: I was lying to myself about what success is.
Don’t Let Happiness Be the Price of Success
Once I realized my personal metrics for success were happiness and fulfillment, it dawned on me how much time I had wasted chasing the wrong goals. Now, I help my employees and other entrepreneurs discover what defines their own visions of success — aside from money — with these three strategies:
1. Align Your Current Trajectory With Your Life Purpose
Ultimately, we all seek meaning in our lives, and that meaning is fundamentally different for all of us. For some, the meaning of life lies in raising children or giving back to the community. For others, it’s getting to introduce the coolest new piece of tech to the world. There’s no right or wrong answer for everyone — but there is a correct answer for you. That’s why your first step toward defining your personal vision of success must be determining what gives your life meaning. Then, you must assess whether your current path will bring you that meaning.
If your life’s purpose isn’t to be at the top of your current field, then you’re at odds with whatever is most important to you. When I really took stock of my life, I asked myself whether sitting in my boss’s boss’s chair in 10 or 20 years would make me happy. The answer was a resounding no.
That’s not to say I will never return to finance; it’s impossible to know what purpose will define my life for the next 30 years. Finance was misaligned with my individual purpose for this stage of my life, but it may well realign in the next stage. That’s why I encourage you to think in five-year increments. Your goals and aspirations can — and almost certainly will — change over time.
If I didn’t want to be sitting in my boss’s boss’s chair, what did I want? My real desire — my real measure of success — was knowing I was having a positive impact on people’s lives, the feeling of accomplishment that comes from building a self-sustaining and profitable business, and the satisfaction of bringing together a team to have fun while doing something worthwhile. Clearly, I had the entrepreneurial bug. Not scratching that itch would have left me wondering “What if?” for the rest of my life.
2. Assign Economic Worth to Your Values
Your values guide the trade-offs you make between life and your career. The best way to decide what’s worth trading is to assign an economic value to each decision.
For example, if comfort and time at home give your life meaning, you might value wearing jeans to work or working remotely. Ask yourself: Is this value important enough that I’m willing to lose a few thousand dollars of annual comp to keep it? This will help you determine whether casual dress is the ultimate comfort or one you would sacrifice for a higher salary that could provide you with other, more important kinds of comfort.
Some of your values may be worth trading for more compensation, but others will be nonnegotiable, meaning no amount of money is worth sacrificing them.
For most major decisions — and even several minor ones — I make comparative lists. When I first decided to work in finance, being in New York (where I felt I was meant to be) and walking to work were worth more to me than a higher salary in a different city. When I realized I could have those things and still have a career I found meaningful, the choice was clear.
3. Make Moderate Changes First
Once you’ve listed your values and assigned each a relative economic worth, force-rank them and seek opportunities to maximize your time spent on the top few. But before you make any drastic changes, figure out whether subtler shifts will do the trick.
For example, if you want to work remotely, you don’t have to immediately look for a new job. Start by asking your boss if remote work is possible at your current role. If not, consider whether finding a remote position would be worth taking a pay cut. You may be able to achieve the most important, highest-value goals on your list in your current career, something worth exploring before you hare off onto a new career path.
The explorations you undertake at this stage will also lay the foundation for your next moves. For example, I took nutrition courses and advised a friend’s early-stage startup while still in my role at a private equity fund. Getting a preview of the entrepreneurial path while building expertise in a new field was a key steppingstone to my passion projects.
Being successful by society’s standards and feeling successful by your own metrics don’t always overlap, but you can choose your own adventure and chart your own course.
The one thing that doesn’t work is lying to yourself. If your metrics for success include the values that are important and meaningful to you, then true success will always feel just beyond your grasp no matter how much money you make. But it’s funny: When you do work you love that’s meaningful to you, financial success tends to follow. You may end up maximizing your bank account alongside your happiness.
A version of this article originally appeared on SUCCESS.com.
Colin Darretta is the founder of WellPath and cofounder and partner at DojoMojo, the partnership marketing platform where marketers from businesses of all sizes can connect with each other and grow their audiences at a fraction of the cost of traditional paid channels. Alongside these roles, he is also an active angel investor.